- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Miles of new shoreline exposed by the drawdown of the cracked Wanapum Dam drew so many visitors that the Grant County Public Utility District closed the area to the public on Thursday.

The district owns the shoreline behind Wanapum Dam.

Utility officials say people have been drawn to the area, which was exposed after the reservoir was drawn down about 26 feet to relieve pressure on the dam.

“There have already been incidents where people are getting stuck in the mud and need to be rescued,” utility spokesman Chuck Allen said. “We’ve seen evidence of people driving their vehicles on the shoreline and other parts that are not stable.”

From now on, only authorized personnel will be allowed access to the shoreline below the high-water mark of the reservoir, the utility said.

The 50-year-old dam is located six miles south of Vantage and the Interstate 90 bridge in central Washington.

The utility is posting signs and actively patrolling the shoreline. Utility officials say law enforcement agencies will be notified whenever anyone is observed trespassing on PUD lands.

Sections of the shoreline, including the riverbank and mud flats, are extremely unstable and pose a serious safety hazard, the utility said.

The utility is trying to determine the best way to repair the fractured spillway pier at the dam.

“The area that sustained the fracture is stable and the fracture has closed,” Allen said. “Our experts are looking at the situation to determine how it’s going to be repaired.”

Allen warned that repairing the crack is likely to be a lengthy process.

“Repairs this extensive couldn’t be made in just a few days,” he said.

The crack was found on a spillway pier and was about 65 feet long and about 2 inches wide, Allen said. But it is unclear how deep the crack is.

Dam officials also do not know what caused the crack, which was discovered Feb. 27, Allen said.

On Wednesday, the incident was downgraded to a “non-failure emergency,” meaning the pier is no longer considered at risk of collapsing.

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